Love Thy Enemy
Does this mean that we should all raise only children? Heck no. Look at the Osmonds: There were eight of them and they’re the happiest bunch of singing goody-goodies on the planet. Are you emotionally devastating your firstborn child by having a second? Absolutely not. A sibling is the greatest gift you can give a child . . . you simply have to teach the child how to appreciate that gift, even when the gift in question accidentally-on-purpose drools on his or her macaroni.
Todd Cartmell, child psychologist and author of Keep the Siblings, Lose the Rivalry recommends that parents proactively teach children “living together skills such as being flexible, taking turns, communicating respectfully, finding a solution and putting the other person before yourself” so they learn to handle disputes and challenges without resorting to name calling and other ugly behavior. And the only way to teach these skills is to spend time together as a family. He says, “There is no substitution for positive time spent together to meld strong sibling relationships.” As family members spend more and more hours of happy times together, they accumulate positive experiences in their “emotional bank accounts” and are more willing to overlook negative experiences when they come up.
Cartmell also urges parents to teach children that, “respectful behavior pays off while disrespectful behavior does not.” That means establishing consequences for teasing, name calling and hitting, while frequently praising and rewarding children when they are sharing, compromising, or controlling their anger.
No Judge—No Jury—No Problem
Despite your best efforts to create a peaceful home, children will at some point lock horns and attempt to suck you into their vortex of bickering. Time-honored phrases like, “It’s not fair!” and “She always gets . . .” or “You never let me . . . ” can wear down the most resilient parent. The older and more verbally adept children become, the more they begin to resemble little lawyers, and more parents begin to feel like judges presiding over the most inane disputes in history.
Dr. Wolf’s recommendation? Vacate the bench. If there is no judge to settle the lawsuits, the lawyers will stop coming into the courtroom because it’s a waste of time. His solution is to never take sides, to intervene only if there is a risk of real physical harm (pinching and poking don’t necessary equate to “harm”), and to swiftly separate both parties when intervention is required. Eventually the kids will realize that coming to you with their conflicts results in nothing more than a casual response like, “Hmmm, that’s too bad.” Or “Sounds like Jeremy really made you mad,” so they’ll stop coming to you altogether and begin to resolve their own problems.